Yesterday evening I went to hear a public lecture by a Mr Justice Evans on Devolution and Justice at Bangor University. Yes, the man is a senior judge, and their were lots of high officials in the audience including the chief probation officer for wales, assistant police commissioner for north wales, lawyers, politicians and even the High Sheriff of Gwynedd (bet you didn't know we had one of them still!). And myself, sat there in a bright red Socialist Student tee-shirt - in amongst a load of people dressed in tuxedos and suits i felt a little underdressed, but I thought some of the issues raised were worth listening to.
The whole lecture was driven from the point of view of the potential for the assembley to create new laws in Wales, and the potential need for a Wales jurisdiction in response to this with Wales specific legal institutions (Scotland and Northern Ireland already do by the way). He described the moves to form a Wales only legal circuit (before, particularly in the North, had been lnked with Cheshire) and the benefits accrued (in terms of more jobs in Wales - but more importantly from my point of view access to legal services in the Welsh language - important in North Wales where many people are first language Welsh speakers).
He then further went on to talk about the need to expand this to create a welsh high court and court of appeal, as well as making legal services available in Wales. Again (and I can't help feeling this was pandering to Welsh local political interests) the potential job creation was stressed and the language factor also. He discussed this in a gradual way, of having the existing England and Wales court sitting in Cardiff several times a year so that Welsh cases can be heard in Wales, as it would take time for Wales to acquire the expertise to do this on it's own. In fact he liked in to Canadian provinces, and Swiss cantons having their own jurisdictions.
I've written about prisons in Wales before (see A New Prison For North Wales?), and for me this was the most interesting part of the lecture. In Wales there are five prisons (one private), none north of the M4 corridor, and there are no prisons for females. This creates enormous problems, particuarly for those in North Wales who may be held in remand in an English prison and travel up to 8 hours to court hearings. Also they are not permitted to speak Welsh in English prisons, and as I have mentioned given that it is many people's first language in this part of the world. This creates big social problems, it is also a burden on detainees families who struggle to be able to visit those in these situations.
What do socialists say about this. Obviously, we stand for equality and the right of self-determination for nations. That said we do not trust the capitalists (Welsh or not) and their representatives in the State system. Whilst a Welsh jurisdiction may see more localised justice, it will not deliver democraticly accessible justice, or see the eventual withering away of the state and the law that we would wish.
But what do you think?
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